Posted by: 1000fish | February 11, 2018

Par for the Corso

Dateline: September 3, 2017 – Columbus, Ohio

I’ll be the first to admit my blog doesn’t always stay on topic. I may, occasionally, wander into non-fishing directions because I, and generally I alone, find them interesting. This is about to happen again. Indeed, most of this post is going to be about old friends in the Midwest and an afternoon improbably spent with a college football legend. The main drama regarding this entire post was finding SOMETHING fishing related – a new species or a record – so that I could write the blog in the first place.

From time to time, with Marta’s curiously enthusiastic encouragement, I head back to the midwest for nutritionally irresponsible weekends with buddies in Ohio and Indiana. One of my best Hoosier friends, Steve Ramsey, may look like an accountant but spent years destroying me at tennis. Every autumn or two, we plan a weekend around some IU, Colts, and Pacers games, and then try to eat as much Skyline Chili as a human can tolerate. (And this limit has been exceeded more than once.) Steve was a football student manager for the Indiana University Hoosiers in the 1970s, so as a sports alum, he gets invited to some fairly cool stuff. I have spent years embarrassing him by attending IU/Michigan games in full Wolverine regalia.

Best of all, Indiana NEVER wins. They have made it uncomfortably interesting – double OT in 2015 and OT in 2017 – but they NEVER win.

Mr. Ramsey in his college yearbook.

This year, we decided to root together against a program everyone can hate – Ohio State. (A college team that could beat the Cleveland Browns – who hasn’t – but bear in mind the Buckeyes’ payroll and arrest record exceeds that of eight NFL teams.)

The OSU game would be nationally televised, and the “College Gameday” host would be, as always, Lee Corso. With the exception of the late and awesome Keith Jackson, Lee Corso is my absolute favorite football announcer. Here is one of his most candid moments: (Warning: may contain language that most kids have already heard at school)

Lee Corso was also the football coach at IU when Steve was a student there. It had been many years since Coach Corso had been to IU, but when College Gameday set up to broadcast this game, the IU football alum association set up an event to honor him. This consisted of a lunch and private reception for the alums and the Coach, and then an on-field award presentation that would be on national television. As an alum, Steve Ramsey was invited to this, and I couldn’t have been more excited for him. We would need to go down to Bloomington a couple of hours early, and then I would need to find something to do while Steve attended all the stuff. I was looking forward to seeing his photos and seeing a great game. I had no intention of crashing either event.

But before I could write about any of this, I would need to catch some sort of new species. I’ve done plenty of fishing in Indianapolis, (see “My Old Kentucky Bone.”) Still, I figured that if I brought out the micro-gear, that I would have a pretty good chance of getting something new. The area near Steve’s house has a number of creeks, and all it would take is one oddball shiner, minnow, or sculpin. The day after the game, I ventured out, micro-gear in hand. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the game later.) The weather was unseasonably cool and windy, from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey. I explored three creeks, and while I did catch some of the requisite chubs and a positively massive bluntnose minnow, there was nothing new to report.

By bluntnose minnow standards, this is a beast.

I could spend days walking creeks like this.

A random northern hogsucker. I first got this species in Wisconsin.

How hard could this be? I needed to get just one lousy new fish to tell the story of the game on that fateful Thursday, and it was turning out to be harder than I’d hoped.

Ah, that fateful Thursday. Steve and I breakfasted at Skyline, then headed south on Highway 37 in the late morning.

Skyline for breakfast. It is just like Skyline for lunch, except maybe a bit less tabasco.

It was a glorious early fall day as we headed through the rolling hills and enjoyed the autumn scenery. We were early enough to secure prime parking, and then we took our time walking over to the alumni center where the event would be held. I figured I would leave Steve there and then wander the campus for a couple of hours. When we got to the registration desk, they recognized Steve and gave him his nametag. Then, something unexpected happened –  they asked me my name, wrote me out a nametag, and sent us in to the event.

To be fair, I was with a well-known alum, and I was wearing an IU football t-shirt and hat, and I suppose I look like a middle-aged former defensive back. But they waved me right in, and there was Coach Corso right in front of me. We were early, so there weren’t many people there yet, and I am certainly not all that shy, so I just walked up and introduced myself. Just like that, I was shaking hands with a thoroughly confused Lee Corso. I explained I was a guest and brought Steve up. We snapped a quick picture together before I left them to talk about the old days.

I will treasure this photo.

Coach spent quite a bit of time with Steve, and clearly remembered him, what he studied, and what he had planned to do after college – amazing for someone he worked with 40+ years ago. The guy was sharp and amazingly engaging.

After he had spent some personal time with everyone in attendance, Coach Corso gave a short talk to the group. It has been years since he coached, and I obviously didn’t play for IU, but I would still follow this man through a wall – he was that charismatic. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to meet him.

Steve signs a team ball for Coach Corso.

No, I didn’t. But if I had, I would have written “Go Blue.”

This was all great, but there was still that fish to catch. Two days after the game, I headed to Ohio to meet some very dear old friends for dinner. On the way in to town, I had arranged a fishing stop at Little Darby Creek, just west of Columbus.

This was a place I had heard of constantly while I lived in Columbus – from 1985 to 1989 – but I never did make it out there to fish. In that somewhat wild and single period of my life, which Marta calls “The Dark Ages When Literacy Was Almost Lost,” I had somewhere around 20 species on my list, and had caught fish in perhaps three states. Back then, I somehow wore size 32 pants and had a lot more hair, but fortune favors the bald.

Speaking of fortune, I had the good luck to be able to arrange a meeting with a fellow species hunter on that trip. Josh Leisen is one of the midwestern guys who always seems to be catching something I’ve never heard of. He happened to be heading through Ohio on the same day as me, and he generously scoped out a couple of fishing spots. Josh knows Martini and Ben, who both speak highly of him. Josh was present when Ben dropped the catfish on his calf – see “The Thing in Ben’s Leg” for all the gruesome details.”

It was a chilly, drizzly day in central Ohio, again courtesy of Hurricane Harvey. Wet wading was a bit more bracing than I had hoped. Josh had planned ahead and brought waders. The creek was beautiful, and positively stuffed with interesting small fish. I caught bluegill, bass, shiners, darters, and minnows, but nothing new. Josh added a couple of lifers – the scarlet and rosyface shiners. He is a very solid, patient fisherman, and is running up quite a life list. (Check out his blog HERE.)

I really should have brought waders.

A closer photo of Josh, from the South America trip. There are no redtail catfish in Little Darby. In case you wondered, the missing fin parts are the work of piranhas.

I only had so much time, because I needed to be in Columbus for dinner and would need to shower and get the worm slime out from under my fingernails. We figured my best shot was at a smallmouth redhorse, which should be present in slightly deeper runs and seams. So I tried this for about a shivering hour, and I did get a golden redhorse, but alas, not the smallmouth.

The golden. In hindsight, that hat might not have been all that stealthy.

I headed in through Columbus, passing exits which carried a rush of memories – had it really been almost 30 years since I lived there? I reached my hotel and got ready to see some guys that I hadn’t seen as a group in 20 years. Looking back on it, we didn’t have all that much in common – except baseball. We all love the game, and back in 1989 we could make any excuse to get a bucket of balls, go to a high school field, and play for hours and hours in those humid midwestern summers. We could road trip to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati at the drop of a hat to watch a game, except for Scott, who always needed more advance planning. We once stuck out an 18-inning Pirates victory together. We only knew each other in Columbus for a couple of years, but have kept in touch for all the decades since. This was the first full gathering in Columbus since the nineties, when Michigan was still routinely beating OSU.

Speaking of the Buckeyes and the game, they didn’t look too good against the Hoosiers for the first half. Indiana took several leads against the highly-favored Ohioans, and in the middle of this, they summoned the IU football alums to the field to present an award to coach Corso. This is where things got even more interesting. Steve would have to walk down a lot of stairs to to get the the end zone access, but he was a bit banged up from an accident a few days ago. (Not his fault, but he had some impressive five-color elbow and leg bruises.) He did not relish doing this through the crowd, and was considering skipping the event. I didn’t want this to happen, so I went and explained the situation to the head of security at the press box, and he kindly gave us access to the elevator to field level. (And all the nachos we could eat.)

When we got down to field level, I walked up to security with Steve. The Alum head, seeing that I had helped Steve get over there, smiled and waved me through to the field. We got to watch about a quarter of the game, including an IU touchdown, from the end zone.

The best seats in the house.

When they gave the award to Coach Corso, we were right in the middle of it and even helped carry him off on the group’s shoulders. It was an extraordinary experience, and hopefully, I didn’t embarrass Steve too much by inadvertently crashing it. At least I was wearing IU gear.

Coach Corso is lifted up. We did not drop him, so we aren’t that old.

Oh, and we were also on national television a bunch of times, but that wouldn’t matter unless I could catch a new species in Ohio.

Yes, we really are there, standing under those arrows.

Think red hat for me, white hat for him. 

Back to the dinner in Columbus – it was  amazing and long overdue. I have now known these guys for more than half my life.

2017: Clockwise from top left – Dave, Scott, John, and you-know-who.

1990: This was not Halloween. And who wears shorts with a baseball jersey?

There was Dave Hogan, he of the amazing fastball and godawful swing. His daughter, who was born right around when I left Columbus, is a full-fledged adult with a college degree and a job and everything.

There was Scott Kisslinger, who threw hard but was known to hit a batter or two, even if they were in the on deck circle. Scott used to live in the apartment across the hall from mine, and caused more than one awkward moment by calling all of my girlfriends “Jennifer.” (He was right twice.) Scott loves to do some fishing himself, and interestingly, caught one of the largest bluegill I have ever seen. (Although we were fishing for bass.)

And finally, John Yohman, owner of the most beautiful swing I have ever seen put on a weak fastball. He was there with his wife, Jackie, who has somehow not aged a bit in 28 years. How could have time passed that quickly? (And how is it that I never learned to hit a curveball?)

We watched old videos of us playing semi-competent pickup baseball well into the night, but it was finally time to get some sleep and figure out how in the world I was going to get a new species, or none of this would ever come to light.

I had time to make one fishing stop the next day on the way back to Indianapolis, and I decided to bet it all on Little Darby and the smallmouth redhorse. The weather had improved wonderfully, and by 9am, it was sunny and warm. Wet wading sounded a lot less hypothermic than it had yesterday.

Little Darby.

I walked the stream for about a mile, looking for deeper seams where redhorse might reside. All the while, I was catching assorted micros, plus plenty of sunfish and the occasional bass. I finally set up above a small hole with a big fallen tree across the top of it. I got more rock bass, then a couple of golden redhorses, which stopped my heart because they pull hard and look like every other redhorse until they’re out of the water.

Great on light tackle.

The action slowed, and with about an hour left, I decided to leave one rod soaking for redhorse and then go upstream and try to get an interesting micro.

A fantail darter – interesting, but alas, not new. 

As it got toward time to leave, I came back to the rod I had wedged in the tree. I immediately spotted that a bunch of line had been pulled off the (loosely set) spool. Something was happening. I tightened the drag, reeled down slowly, and a moment later, there was weight. I gently reeled into the circle hook and the fish started fighting. Decent size, clearly not a bluegill, and as it got close, I saw it was the right shape. But I needed to get it on to the bank to examine it. Would Lee Corso, if he was announcing Species Fishday, put on the Golden Redhorse helmet or the Smallmouth Redhorse Helmet? I looked closely – red dorsal and tail, short head – Lee Corso would put on the Smallmouth helmet. I had done it, and just in the nick of time. And to think – if that hook had slipped, you wouldn’t have had to read any of this, but it didn’t, and you did.

The beast. Species #1732.

It must have been the lucky hat and shirt the guys gave me.

Certainly, this was a very high text-to-species ratio, but the things I will remember most about this trip – and about so many of my trips – are the friends, old and new. Links to a past that I can still touch, a common experience that we can look back and say “We were here.” There are private jokes that are still funny 28 years later, new friends that I will undoubtedly fish with again, and yes, I got to shake hands with Lee Corso.

Steve

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